When historian H.G. Wells died in 1946, many newspapers quoted the last words he ever spoke. Friends and nurses were fluttering about his bedside trying to be helpful, adjusting his pillows, pulling up the covers, administering sedatives and so on. Wells turned to them and said, “Don’t bother me! Can’t you see I’m busy dying?” It was the last flicker of humour from a well-known person.
The way people die says a lot about the way they have lived; in fact it says almost everything about the way they lived. We need to face the fact that one day you and I are going to die. It’s a fact of life that death is inevitable, and we can’t avoid it. Our life here on earth is temporary—we won’t live forever, even if we wanted to.
In the Bible we read words from James who says:
Listen to me, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to a certain city, where we will spend a year, and go into business and make much money”. You do not even know what your life tomorrow will be like. For you are like a thin fog, which appears for a moment and then disappears. This, then, is what you should say, “If the Lord is willing, we will live and do this and that”. But now you are proud, and you boast: all such boasting is wrong. So the man who does not do the good he knows he should do, is guilty of sin. (James 4:13-17)
A Life of Faith
James emphasises the truth that a life of faith is one of daily dependence on the Lord. Our day-to-day planning must always be done with the awareness that our minutes, our hours, and our days are subject to the will of the Lord. He describes our life as a morning fog—now you see it, soon it is gone (Living Bible). Then he adds that our attitude at all times must be: “If the Lord wants us to. we shall live and do this or do that.”
Let’s be clear. Those words are not intended to minimise the need for planning and preparation for each day of our lives, but to stress the overriding importance of living each day in complete dependence on the Lord. So in the midst of this passage, James asks the penetrating question, What is your life? And he helps to answer it.
In one of Arthur Miller’s plays called The Price, a middle-aged couple is reminiscing. Life for them had turned out to be a disappointment. They thought they had it all mapped out. They knew what they wanted to do, their goals seemed clear. But they never realised their goals. At a climatic moment of the play, the woman says to her husband, “Everything was always temporary with us. It’s as if we never were anything. We were always just about to be.”
Isn’t that tragic? But it is a very common experience. Have you ever said that? Many of us enter middle age and look down the road toward a retirement that is not all that far away, and we wonder What happened? Or maybe we are already at that stage in life; and we ask, What happened? Where did it all go? Where did we make the wrong turn?
Or maybe we didn’t make a wrong turn—maybe we didn’t make a turn at all. Or maybe, at a crucial moment, we failed to decide. We were too afraid to take the risk. So we stand, asking the question that was asked in a popular song a few years ago: Is That All There Is?
Life Is a Gift
I’m sure we all have plans for our lives. How can we be sure that we plan our lives and live our lives in a way that is pleasing to God? James tells us how to look at life in a godly way, but first he tells us to avoid the sin of presumption. Listen again to verses 13-15 as James describes this:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
James describes a merchant planning his future business as though he was really in control. He not only presumes to know what will happen tomorrow, but for the next year! We are like that, aren’t we? We are presumptuous enough to think we are in control of our lives. Think you’re in control? It is only an illusion. There is very little we can control. Proverbs 27:1 says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”
The second sin James warns us against is boasting. In verse 16 he says, “As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.” Not only do we presume we have control over our lives, but we even boast about it. Such boasting mocks the Creator who really is the One in control of our lives.
The third sin is the sin of omission. Take a look at verse 17: “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” Sin is not only doing something wrong; it is not doing something right. God has given each of us certain gifts to do what is right in his eyes and here the Bible tells us that if we don’t do it we have sinned against God.
And then James leads us to a question, which answered gives us the key to the proper attitude toward life and our planning. The question is: What is your life? Implicit in our Scripture lesson is James’ answer: Life is a gift. And, life is opportunity.
SOURCE: New Horizons Community Church
By Pastor J. David Hoke